March Madness 2017: Updated Bracket and Bold Predictions for Final Four

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2017

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 30:  Luke Maye #32 of the North Carolina Tar Heels speaks during media availability for the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium on March 30, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

We're guaranteed to see one school reach the men's NCAA championship game for the first time, with Gonzaga and South Carolina never having progressed that far.

As a result, it's not bold to predict a new title contender. However, we could see old patterns continue or new trends develop within each contest.

Will South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell continue his tear through the tournament against Gonzaga's defense?

Can North Carolina guard Joel Berry II break out of his shooting slump in a probable high-scoring contest with Oregon?

The bottom line may surprise you for both matchups, but the box scores could provide bigger shocks. We'll pinpoint a few bold predictions for Saturday’s Final Four games.

  

Sindarius Thornwell Fails to Score 20 Points 

Thornwell went from Southeastern Conference Player of the Year to a household name among college basketball fans in March. His opponents have yet to find an answer to his scoring onslaught through tournament play. He's averaged approximately 25 points per game over the past four victories.

Gonzaga brings size to the defensive end, which means fewer offensive rebounds for the Gamecocks and more distant shooting for Thornwell. The senior guard has been able to bolster his numbers at the free-throw line in the previous three games. He's attempted at least 10 and made eight from the charity stripe in that span.

The Bulldogs will likely put up an interior wall and minimize Thornwell's extra scoring opportunities at the free-throw line. Shooting efficiency will play a huge part in his scoring outcome on Saturday. More importantly, someone else, possibly guard PJ Dozier, will have to contribute a little more on the offensive end.

Fortunately, South Carolina plays good enough defense to survive a sub-20 point game from its star player. Expect the winning team in this contest to score about 75 points. Dozier will lead the team in the Gamecocks' fifth NCAA tournament victory this year.

  

North Carolina and Oregon Eclipse 180 Combined Points

Through March, many have taken note of the Tar Heels defense and head coach Roy Williams' ability to effectively game-plan against a prominent scorer on the opposing team. However, North Carolina ranked No. 9 in points per game during the regular season. Through four tournament games, the Tar Heels' scoring average equaled their season mark at 85 points per contest.

Williams' group matched up well against Kentucky, an opponent that is capable of playing well defensively with bigger bodies. The Tar Heels also scored 92 points in their Sweet 16 contest with Butler. This team can win in a variety of ways.

On Saturday, North Carolina must adapt to Oregon's fast-paced playing style. Despite designing an effective game plan to slow down Kentucky guards De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk in the previous round, expect Oregon's top scorers, guard Tyler Dorsey and forward Dillon Brooks, to push the Tar Heels in the scoring column.

The Ducks don't have to pound the ball inside and match interior size with the Tar Heels. Dorsey and Brooks combined for nine three-pointers against Kansas in the Elite Eight round. North Carolina should prepare to eclipse 90 points to win in a high-scoring game.

  

Luke Maye Leads Tar Heels in Scoring 

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 26:  Luke Maye #32 of the North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down the net after making the game winning shot and defeating the Kentucky Wildcats during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at FedExForum on March 26, 2017
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Tar Heels will need scoring from their top two players, forward Justin Jackson and Berry, to punch their ticket to the championship game. However, Berry's struggles with his poor shooting percentages and minor nicks and bruises through the tournament will once again create an opportunity for a teammate to shine in a critical contest.

Luke Maye averaged 5.8 points during the season, but he's been a huge contributor over the past two games. The 6'8" forward can clean up shots on the boards or stretch the floor as a shooter. He's 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, averaging 16.5 points over the past two outings. Against Butler, Maye grabbed 12 rebounds.

Berry will have opportunities to break out of an overall slump, but North Carolina should feed Maye's hand while it is hot. He came up huge down the stretch in the previous game with a game-winning jump shot from 18 feet. As a contributor off the bench, he's vital to the Tar Heels' firepower in a game in which the winner should aim to surpass 90 points.

  

Stats provided by Sports Reference unless otherwise noted. 

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